Moore, Clement Clarke, 1779-1863
Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863) was a long-time summer resident of Newport who wrote America’s best known poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”
Moore was born in New York City, the son of Benjamin Moore, a clergyman. Although Clement prepared to follow in his father’s footsteps, he was never ordained, preferring instead the life of a scholar. He was an ardent Federalist who attacked Jefferson in an 1804 treatise, but he retreated to less controversial topics and published a highly-regarded Hebrew-English Lexicon in 1809. Moore’s strong ties to the Episcopal church prompted him to donate land in Chatham Square as the site for the General Theological Seminary. Then, in 1821, he became professor of Greek and Hebrew at that institution, a position he held until his retirement in 1850.
Despite his scholarly prominence, Moore is best remembered for his night before Christmas poem. It was published in 1844 as part of Moore’s collected verses, but had been appearing, without any attribution, since 1823–a fact that has caused some to dispute Moore’s authorship. Moore wrote his famous poem for his six children (he eventually had nine) in 1822 while living in New York City. A Troy, New York newspaper first printed it at Christmastime in 1823.
After retiring, Moore became a permanent Newport resident, living in a twenty-five room Victorian home still standing at 25 Catherine Street. Shortly after his death in 1863, cartoonist Thomas Nast popularized the appearance of St. Nicholas as described by Moore in his famous verses. In sum, Moore and Nast combined to produce America’s modern image of Santa Claus.